How the oil price slump is forcing countries to go green

A solar power project in Algeria. Photo: Magharebia
A solar power project in Algeria. Photo: Magharebia

Well, who’d have thunk it?
  Just several weeks after Ideas For Today suggested it would be in many oil-producing countries’ interest to start thinking about renewable energy, news has come out showing that they’ve decided to do just that.  The reason?  The dramatic fall in the price of oil, of course.

The oil slump has caused countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and other oil exporters to maximise oil exports by cutting down demand for oil at home.  This has partly been through cutting overall energy usage (e.g. cutting electricity and water subsidies) but also through increased use of renewable energy.

Measures have been put in place to increase the amount of renewable energy generated (like encouraging homeowners to put solar panels on their roofs, which is a great idea given that most of these countries are located in a desert) in order to reach some relatively ambitious targets.  By 2030, Kuwait plans to source 15% of its electricity from solar and wind power; for Qatar the figure is 20% and for Egypt 30%.  Jordan, meanwhile, plans to gain 20% of its energy from solar and wind by 2025.

It’s very reassuring to see that these countries — some of the biggest oil exporters in the world — are looking to improve their domestic energy policies by increasing the amount of electricity they get from the abundant renewable sources they have.  But given their geography, it’s not enough — these hot, dry countries with long coast lines should be making enormous amounts of solar, wind and wave energy, with aims like 50-60%, not 15-20%.

The other concern is that exports don’t seem to be drying up any time soon — it seems that as long as Saudi Arabia, Russia and co are still pumping oil out of the ground, the USA, Europe, China and others are going to keep buying it. Especially following the Paris summit, it would be in these latter countries’ interests to start a concerted renewable energy drive in order to be self-sufficient in terms of energy use — not having to buy massive amounts of oil would be a boon for these economies.

Alternatively, it’s still possible for the Gulf states and others to continue being energy exporters and go green — they can export renewable energy.  As a recent BBC Inquiry showed, the technology is available to export renewable solar energy — the political will just has to be there.  Okay, I say “just”…

We shan’t hold our breath for all those countries dependent on oil revenues to suddenly become green utopias, but the recent price slump shows that there can be a healthy future for these states without oil.
For now, we’ll take the recent renewable shift as a tentative sign of progress.

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Jon Holiday

Jon commentates on the ways culture and politics interact.

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